Cao Xueqin (1715-1763) was a Qing Dynasty Chinese writer, best known as the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He was born into a family which for three generations held the office of Commissioner of Imperial Textiles in Nanking, a family so wealthy that they were able to entertain the Emperor Kangxi four times. But calamity overtook them and their property was confiscated. Cao Xuegin was living in poverty near Peking when he wrote his famous novel The Story of the Stone (also known as The Dream of the Red Chamber), of which this is the second volume. The four other volumes, The Golden Days, The Warning Voice, The Debt of Tears and The Dreamer Wakes, are also published in the Penguin Classics.